Gov. Frank Murkowski's approval rating is one percentage point away from tying the nation's least popular governor, according to one of the country's largest pollsters.
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Survey USA, a New Jersey-based company, polled 600 adults in each state last weekend. Murkowski's 20 percent approval rating was 49th, leading only Ohio Republican Bob Taft's 19 percent. Taft, the first Ohio governor to ever be charged with a crime while in office, pleaded no contest to violating state ethics laws.
Topping the list with 78 percent was North Dakota Republican John Hoeven. The average approval rating among the 50 states was 48 percent.
Murkowski, who is running for re-election, faces competition from four other Republican candidates - former state legislator John Binkley, former Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin, Palmer resident Jerry Heikes and Anchorage resident Merica Hlatcu - for the party's nomination on Aug. 22.
"Obviously, he's been in politics for a long time," said Murkowski spokesman John Manly. "He understands if he makes tough decisions, somebody will not like them."
The drop in popularity comes after the Legislature failed this month to pass a rewrite of the state's oil taxes. The governor and state lawmakers say the system is broken, and that a fix could earn $2 billion more. The governor's proposed tax rate - 20 percent on profits - was the lowest rate among those considered by the Legislature.
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Also, the governor faces a lack of legislative support for a contract the administration is trying to pen with ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and BP to build a pipeline to sell North Slope natural gas to Canada and the Midwest.
Lawmakers say Murkowski's strategy gives away too many concessions to entice oil companies to sign the deal. But the governor maintains his proposal guarantees the pipeline will be built.
Murkowski ran a full-page campaign ad in the Juneau Empire and Anchorage Daily News on Monday addressing his popularity.
"I agree. I admit it. I'm a long, long way from perfect. At one time or another I've made the whole state mad at me. Maybe I should consider a personality transplant," it said.
Murkowski also wrote that despite public opinion, he plans to proceed with his agenda.
"But in Alaska, sometimes it takes a strong will to make things happen."
According to the survey, 39 percent of Republicans approved of their governor while 11 percent of Democrats and 9 percent of independents favored Murkowski.
Many political insiders say Murkowski's numbers mean this is a time for change.
"At 20 percent approval rating, it goes to show we all have an expiration date, and Frank may have reached his," said Rep. Harry Crawford, D-Anchorage, a critic of the oil tax and the contract.
The governor has alienated legislators and the public by seeking input from the oil companies on key decisions, rather than going to lawmakers and constituents, Crawford said.
Binkley said the poll results from SurveyUSA are similar to polls his campaign has conducted. His opponent will have to do a lot more than run newspaper ads about a personality makeover to convince voters they need him for another four years, Binkley asserted.
"He's going to have to run on his record and I think that's where he has failed," he said.
Some Republicans say polls reflect the current mood but really mean nothing when it comes time to fill out the ballot.
"It's a long way to Aug. 22, and a lot can happen between now and then," said Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, R-Juneau.
When asked, "Do you approve or disapprove of the job Frank Murkowski is doing as governor?" 20 percent said they approve, 78 percent said they disapprove and 3 percent said they are not sure.
Because the same number of respondents was surveyed in each state regardless of population, the margins of error vary slightly from state to state. The surveyor claims a 3.4 percent margin of error for Alaska.
About this time last year, SurveyUSA showed the governor's approval rating at 27 percent.
Murkowski saw numbers as high as 70 percent when in 2001, as a U.S. senator, he announced he would campaign for governor.
Political commentators in the past have attributed his dip in public approval to steep budget cuts and controversial decisions, such as appointing his daughter to fill his empty seat in the U.S. Senate. Last fall voters elected Sen. Lisa Murkowski to her own term.
SurveyUSA plans to update the poll monthly.
Andrew Petty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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